Me Before You
We call the male protagonist in a romance the “hero.” But what is a hero and what is a heroic life? That’s just one of the many questions Moyes’ book poses to her readers in this story that tips the scales into the incredibly weepy zone.
The plot is fairly simple: Twenty-six year old British working class Louisa Clark is made redundant when the coffee shop where she works closes. Since she has only basic schooling, no job qualifications, and lives at home with her parents, she applies as a caretaker/companion to Will Traynor. Thirty-six year old British upper middle class Will, once a man who had it all–powerful job, regal fiancé, and passion for extreme sports–is now wheelchair-bound due to a severe spinal injury, leaving him unable to use one arm and his legs.
Will has given up on his life and wants to die via assisted suicide in Switzerland, but his mother has persuaded him to live for six more months in an effort to prove to him that life’s worth living. To this end she hires Louisa (who at first doesn’t know of the six-month limit) because the young woman is vibrant and lively.
When Louisa does find out, she knocks herself out trying to make Will happy, to get him to smile, to make him feel alive. With his medical caretaker Nathan, they embark on a series of adventures, many ill-fated, some successful. At best, Will tolerates Louisa’s efforts which ultimately frustrates Louisa no end. As they interact, Louisa falls in love with Will. And Will? He still wants to die.
Moyes covers acres of controversial ground in this novel. Foremost is the debate between right to life and assisted suicide. Aside from that is the basic debate on what life is as seen from two different class perspectives. What is quality of life and how important is it when deciding whether to curtail one’s life? The biggest question, however, is whether Will’s wish for death is purely selfish given the number of people who want him to live or if he’s ultimately making their lives better.
To enjoy the book, readers must like Louisa which is very easy to do. She is an everywoman who is conscripted during difficult times into a position she probably wouldn’t have chosen otherwise. Hers is the universal dilemma of the working class. And she’s reliable and conscientious with enough quirks not to be a prig. Although she’s been plodding through life without thinking much about her options, she is happy enough not to feel cheated.
Will, as a character, is a little more difficult to like. Unlike the working class person who might pick himself up and reassess his new circumstances in order to readjust his expectations and goals, he lives in the past and resents this upheaval. When he realizes that he’s truly stuck, he doesn’t bounce, but crumbles, seeking a way out. Given the way he is at the beginning of the book, it’s difficult to believe he was really very happy in his former life.
Will sees heroism as scaling a difficult mountain, living life to its fullest when one is rich and healthy, but folding when times actually get tough. For all his film viewing, he hasn’t watched Rory O’Shea Was Here nor taken away its message of really living life to its fullest. But then Rory is working class, and Will isn’t, which may be one of the points Moyes is making.
Fortunately, Moyes’ writing is so facile that the flaws in Will’s character make him imperfect enough for the novel to stay realistic and not to become a fairytale. Given the subject matter, readers should go into the book knowing two things: Reading the book in a public place isn’t advisable, and readers must have tissues on hand at all times.
Moyes presents arguments on both sides of the various debates, and obviously has an opinion, given the protagonist of the novel. This is one of those books that lives with readers for months after the last page is read. It also sparks the kind of contemplation necessary to solidify one’s opinions on these issues.